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Afghan Rugby Star Gives Of Himself To Save His Mother

Mustafa Sadat (center) plays in a rugby tournament in Lahore, Pakistan in October 2011.
Afghan sportsman Mustafa Sadat is no stranger to the spotlight.

At the age of 25 Sadat, a former kickboxing champion, is a star in the country's fledgling rugby league. But none of his sporting success has brought him the fame he has found since giving part of himself to save another's life.

Sadat's popularity among Afghans has skyrocketed since he risked his health and his career to donate part of his liver to his mother, a procedure that is not universally accepted in Islam.

On February 15 at a private clinic in New Delhi, mother and son underwent a total of 17 hours of surgery. The procedure was a success, and the two are well on the road to recovery.

Sadat says the decision to travel to India for the risky operation -- called living donor liver transplantation -- was an easy one.

"I immediately offered to become a liver donor to my mother. She has seen many hardships and I was ready to sacrifice my life for her," Sadat says. "The surgery was successful. I consider myself very lucky to be able to save my mother's life. Much to my delight, my mother's health is improving."

Sadat is expected to make a full recovery and lead a normal and healthy life. He is now preparing to resume his rugby career.

'Many Were Praying'

He took up rugby just two years ago when Afghanistan's first team was formed. Many in the country were already familiar with Sadat's kickboxing career -- he has a number of trophies and a national title to his name -- and he quickly became one of the most visible rugby stars in the country.

I was completely sure of and have never regretted my decision to give part of my liver to my mother because she is my mother and a mother is irreplaceable.
-- Mustafa Sadat
Since the surgery, according to Afghanistan Rugby Federation chief executive Asad Ziar, Sadat's fan base has become even more vocal in its support.

"Comments and messages were pouring in from Afghanistan," Ziar says, referring to the federation's Facebook and Twitter accounts. "Many, many people were praying for the patients' recovery and praising Mustafa's decision to put his life and career at risk to save his mother's life."

Organ transplantation is rare in Afghanistan and is not universally accepted. Some question whether the procedure is compatible with Islam. One interpretation holds that organ transplants violate the "special honor" accorded to the human body, whether living or dead. As a result, not all of the comments about the surgery have been positive.

"I don't usually delete any posts on Facebook," Ziar says, "but this time I decided to remove the negative comments because I thought it was the last thing Mustafa needed while he was recovering from a major surgery."

Ultimately, says Abdul Rauf Herawi, director of the Justice Ministry's law and investigations department, Sadat has helped to spark a healthy debate.

"According to the Koran, 'Whosoever saves the life of one person it would be as he saved the life of all mankind.' Mustafa's case will have a positive impact on public opinion," Herawi says. "It's a commendable action, and we should be proud of him."

'Never Lost Hope'

Sadat has five siblings -- two sisters and three brothers -- but the older ones are married and the younger ones are too young, making him best suited to be the donor.

"I was completely sure of and have never regretted my decision to give part of my liver to my mother because she is my mother and a mother is irreplaceable," Sadat says. "Of course, I thought about my future, too. Especially my future in sports. I would think about how I had been training and playing sports for years and how I had finally made some achievements.

Mustafa Sadat in his kickboxing days
Mustafa Sadat in his kickboxing days
"So, I've had some emotional moments. But I never lost hope that I would fully recover soon and resume my career in sports."

The cost of the surgery, including doctors' fees, living, and traveling costs, came to around $60,000. The family borrowed most of the money from relatives and friends.

"Obviously, it was a difficult decision, because there are many risks involved with any surgery, let alone with a major transplant surgery," Sadat says. "I knew I was risking my future career, too, because rugby is a very hard, very physically demanding sport. We discussed it with doctors thoroughly and they assured me that I had a great chance of making a full recovery and returning to sports within a year."

Sadat's return to the pitch cannot come too soon for Ziar, whose federation oversees 10 semiprofessional teams.

"The charismatic and talented Sadat is the federation's single best asset," he says.

Until Sadat is physically able to compete, the federation is negotiating to have him become a coach or consultant.

"He has a star's ability to draw people and keep them together, so we want him just to be there and give advice," Ziar says. "We just need his presence."

Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah in Prague and RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Safiullah Stanikzai in Kabul
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.